New Tech Ideas for Aging Well

Technology

New Tech Ideas for Aging Well

Devices can offset difficulties aging adults face with everyday tasks while also helping caregivers.

Virtual reality can help address dementia issues. Courtesy StoryUp Studios

New technology can counter some difficulties aging adults face with everyday tasks and can also help caregivers better understand the needs of their loved ones. The tech market for adults over age 50 is growing rapidly, with older consumers expected to spend $84 billion on tech products by the end of the next decade, according to recent AARP research.

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Keeping up with new products and their potential uses can be a challenge. Each year, AARP hosts an Innovation Labs Grand Pitch Finale, a competition to highlight the latest in technology for seniors. Some of this year’s pitches focused on new ways to counter the challenges that contribute to social isolation among older adults, including communicating with caregivers and expressing emotions. New products also illustrated a shift from safety monitoring and assistance to quality of life issues, with developments in artificial intelligence playing a larger role in new products. (Search “grand pitch finale” at aarp.org.)

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About 10 startups and their products were showcased at the event this fall. Here are some highlights.

Healium is a new technology from StoryUp, a Columbia, Mo., company that uses virtual and augmented reality for storytelling. Your parent or spouse can shift an upsetting narrative in their minds to something more positive, equipped with a brain-sensing headband and virtual reality goggles. It’s not a cure for dementia, but it can help to address some of dementia’s distressing symptoms.

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Healium’s chief executive officer, Sarah Hill, says her 83-year-old mother-in-law uses Healium to visualize herself observing a waterfall in South America, resting on a beach in Australia or sitting on a park bench near her home. She also can watch her brain waves reacting positively and powering new images—she sees herself floating up the side of the waterfall, for example. She calms herself and no longer experiences the agitation of sundowning. “The more positive you are, the more changes you see,” Hill says. Buy a Healium kit at tryhealium.com; the hardware bundle costs $500 and monthly subscriptions start at $29.

Loro is a device mounted to a wheelchair or bedside that uses artificial intelligence assistive technology to help users see and interact with the world around them. The device includes a 360-degree rotating camera and an app, and it helps users communicate in different ways, using eye movements, facial recognition and text to speech. Loro might notice that a user is focusing his gaze on a bottle of water and can ask by text whether he or she is thirsty, says David Hojah, co-founder of Loro Co. Loro could communicate that request to a caregiver. Go to loro.xyz for a pilot signup; Loro plans a product launch in January and an expected cost of $800 for the device.

Artiphon Instrument 1 is a new smart digital instrument that allows seniors with arthritis or other conditions that affect their fine motor skills to keep playing the music they love. It looks similar to a guitar neck and adapts to the way the user plays it, says Adam McHeffey, director of marketing for Nashville-based Artiphon. It can be a guitar, a violin or even a piano. For those who once played and miss the experience, or just find music soothing, it removes the physical barriers of a traditional instrument. “People should be able to make music regardless of skill, style or ability,” says McHeffey. You can buy an Artiphon at artiphon.com or Amazon.com for $399.

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The winner of the competition: the Sunu Band, which is a wearable smart bracelet for people with low or no vision. It uses a built-in sonar sensor to help users sense objects and obstacles around them. For older adults with declining eyesight, the Sunu Band can help avoid isolation problems by making it safer for them to go outside for walks or to socialize, says co-founder Fernando Albertorio. The Sunu Band costs $299 and is available at sunu.com